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Dealing with Difficult Times

August 19, 2013

Q: It seems like the world is going through difficult times. There are conflicts everywhere. How should we deal with this situation?

The Arahant: Difficult times for whom? We are not in any difficulty; indeed, our lives are going quite smoothly. But I understand, the world is in a desperate situation.

“Monks, there are these three kinds of suffering. What three? Suffering caused by pain, suffering caused by fabrications (or conditioned existence), suffering due to change. It is for the full comprehension, clear understanding, ending and abandonment of these three forms of suffering that the Noble Eightfold Path is to be cultivated.” — Dukkhata Sutta (SN 45.165)

The First Noble Truth is the truth of suffering. Ordinary suffering due to bodily pain, old age, disease and death is bearable, because there is always an end to it. But the other two types of suffering are unbearable because they are indefinite in duration. There is never an end to change, but we want our conditions to be stable. And fabrications cause suffering at all times, because they are imaginary states of ‘being’ that we take as being real: the ‘self’, our ‘identity’, so many titles and other designations, ‘possessions’, ‘control’, ‘enjoyment’, and so many other merely semantic entities, abstractions and illusions.

Everyone in the world is caught up in passion, and as a result they are ensnared in a thicket of wrong views, caught in a net of wrong views, lost in a wilderness of wrong views. That is why they are suffering. If they would accept Right View, the very foundation and beginning of the Eightfold Noble Path, they could easily be delivered from their suffering:

“When—having entirely abandoned passion-obsession, having abolished aversion-obsession, having uprooted the view-&-conceit obsession ‘I am’; having abandoned ignorance & given rise to clear knowing—he has put an end to suffering & stress right in the here-&-now, it is to this extent that a disciple of the noble ones is a person of right view, one whose view is made straight, who is endowed with verified confidence in the Dhamma, and who has arrived at this true Dhamma.” — Sammaditthi Sutta (MN 9)

But because they insist on clinging to their wrong views, there isn’t much that we or anyone can do. The only way for things to improve is through change—and yet, people resist change because it has the taste of death. They are attached to their conditioned, impermanent objects of enjoyment, and refuse to let go of them to find real pleasure, inexhaustible and unconditioned pleasure, within themselves. This is why they are suffering.

People want an easy answer, but there is no easy solution to this problem. They are blaming the government, corporations, other people, ‘god’—but they cannot see that their own wrong views and actions resulted in the present situation. The solution cannot come from you or me, it cannot come from other people, and it certainly cannot come from religion or government or planning commissions, because they are merely fabricated abstractions.

The solution to suffering comes only when we let go of our fixed notions of who and what we are, let go of our clinging to possessions and passions, and get back into harmony with the Dhamma. The Buddha did not create the Dhamma; he discovered it. The Dhamma is the law of nature—the way things are. As long as we resist it, use science to fight against nature, speculate and fabricate our way through life, we shall be defeated again and again.

Water flows without resistance, never clinging, but always staying true to its own nature. In this way it overcomes all obstacles and inevitably finds its way to the goal: the ocean. In the same way, we should keep our hearts pure and our minds innocent, keep our attitudes open, detached and unstructured, and allow the changes of the time to shape and mold us. Abandoning all selfish goals and acting only for the benefit of all, then we are in the flow of the Dhamma.

We can move toward a real solution of the difficulties facing us today only when we know and realize the truth revealed by the Buddha: that there is no ‘I’, no ‘self’, no ‘other’, no ‘mine’, no ‘theirs’. Suffering will abate when we habitually follow the Dhamma in all things, putting aside our selfish and inferior impulses and acting for the good of the whole. Certainly we are facing tremendous challenges today, but if we are resolute in putting aside petty prejudice, fear, anger, doubt and despair, lasting success will be possible.

There is a need for a radically new kind of community, a social structure that is completely fair to everyone, independent of race, nationality, religion, politics, economics and so on. Actually this type of community already exists: it is the Buddha-dhamma, the Vinaya and the Sangha. The Buddha gave a general solution to all problems; but the price of this solution is that you have to give up your cherished but wrong ideas.

People wrongly think that the Buddha’s teaching is appropriate only to the ancient past, or to people of a certain culture or religion. They do not understand that the Buddha’s teaching is universal, more relevant today than ever. It is just waiting for people in general, and ‘Buddhists’ in particular, to drop their wrong views and embrace it.

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